I can't think of a more pressingly painful feeling that cuts deeper than falling into the bottomless pit of acute loneliness.
Heartbreak is a close second, but isn't the most harrowing aspect of a broken heart the all-consuming, impenetrable sweeps of loneliness anyway?
I used to feel lonely all of the time. Not just when I felt blazingly single all alone on a Sunday night, stewing in the thoughts of my friends tucked safely into the arms of their significant others while I remained loveless and lonesome.
It was a constant. The loneliness followed me everywhere I went, like that bad habit that incessantly tugs at your gut -- the one you can't seem to shake no matter how hard you try.
I was overcome with loneliness even when I was drenched in the comforting sea of close friends and family.
I felt empty pangs of loneliness even when twisted up in the softest of blankets with my legs wildly intertwined with a lover's.
I was lonely every time I got hammered at the dirty pub across the street from my studio apartment, where I would drink myself to death in failed attempts of staving off the heavy weight of loneliness.
I was lonely when I woke up the next morning sorely hungover, sharing the same breath with an unfamiliar face in an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar part of town.
When I was a teenager, an old lady at a bus stop once told me, "Cigarettes are the best company."
I never forgot her words, and while I smoked incessantly waiting to feel the comfort of “company” -- I still found myself hopelessly lonely each time a Marlboro Light penetrated my lips.
I was lonely when I laughed. I was lonely when I cried, and I was lonely everywhere in between.
I did whatever I could do to run away from the loneliness.
I drank until I blacked out. I numbed myself with happy pills. I shared my sacred bed with unworthy, faceless strangers who I randomly encountered with a spinning head and slurred speech at the bar.
I had a boyfriend. I had a girlfriend.
I was the girl who was always down to "hang out."
The TV was always on. The blue and white banner of Facebook perpetually radiated from my computer screen, adding a cool toned filter to my lonely little windowless bedroom in my lonely little London apartment.
But no drug, no person, no friend, no sexual encounter, no intoxicated kiss and no amount of social media validation was strong enough to thwart the seemingly indestructible demon of loneliness.
Here is the tricky part about the art of numbing: There is only so long a person can survive off anesthetic and Band-Aids. At some point, you're going to have to treat the infection -- even if it means having to feel the pesky sting when the painkillers start to wear off.
When my life all came crashing down into a million shards of glass in 2012, I finally had the courage to peel the bandage off.
That's the beauty of the breakdown. When you hit rock bottom, you're forced to make a choice. You either die, or you deal with it.
I dealt with it. I got help.
And while lying on the black leather couch on a rainy Tuesday afternoon in my therapist's office, it hit me like a fist.
I realized I was so lonely all of the time because I didn't like myself. Not only was I nowhere near friendly with myself -- I was my own mortal enemy.
I spoke to myself in a way I would never dare to talk to another human being, including that vicious bitch from the seventh grade I fiercely loathe to this day.
"You're stupid. You're fat. You're worthless. You're ugly" was along the lines of my morning mantra for myself.
I didn't even really know myself, let alone have a healthy relationship with myself. Thus begun the long and arduous journey of learning to become my own best friend.
I did a little exercise. An experiment of sorts. I began to speak to myself in a kind and gentle way. If I f*cked something up, rather than beating myself into the ground and turning to my usual self-destructive, self-punishing tactics, I started to instead soothe myself.
I began to take notice of kind things I did for other people and started to pat myself on the back for taking courageous career risks or having an excellent work ethic or showing up for a friend at 3 am when she needed me.
Most importantly, I started showing up for myself.
I let my mind wander wherever it wanted to wander. I stopped judging my thoughts, and instead, I learned the absolute beauty of indulging in my imagination.
Little by little, I began to like myself.
I started to hang the f*ck out with myself. And before I knew it, I began to sort of love myself. And allowed myself to be loved in return.
I became my own best friend.
Herein lies the truth about best friends: A best friend is an intensely intimate relationship.
Fights are inevitable. You're going to occasionally butt heads and disagree with his or her thoughts or opinions or life choices. But withstanding conflict is actually what brings two people close. Surviving adversity is what creates unbreakably strong bonds.
Your relationship with yourself is no different. There are days when I wake up, and I'm irritated with myself.
But again, just like a best friend, I know my love for myself is unconditional, and that solid foundation of love and respect is what keeps me strong through the most challenging days.
In learning to be my own best friend, I found the remedy for loneliness. It wasn't falling into the arms of the perfect suitor. It wasn't pills or booze or drugs. It wasn't immersing myself in work. It wasn't incessantly “hanging out” with friends.
I encourage you to take the time to get to know yourself. Don't be afraid to confront the bad feels. You might even be surprised to find they’re not as bad as you feared.
When you find yourself saying horrible, judgmental mantras to yourself, ask yourself this pivotal question:
"Would I ever talk to my best friend this way?"
You wouldn't. So why would you ever talk to yourself that way?
You are the most precious person on the planet. It's time you nurtured the only ever-lasting relationship of your life.
I remember the first time I lost someone I loved; my closest friend passed away when I was 19. I was hopelessly inconsolable. It was the first time I experienced loss.
As I cried a river into my friend's lap, she ran her fingers across my back and graced me with wise words:
"The saddest part of our existence is, at some point, everyone you love will leave you behind, or you will leave them behind," she whispered into my ear.
It's a hard pill to swallow, but it's the truth. And there is always beauty in the truth.
People sometimes unexpectedly die. People whom we trusted with every fiber of our being will sometimes betray us in the most brutally painful ways.
People we grow to depend on get jobs in other cities and move all the way across the country. The person we thought we were going to spend the rest of our days with sometimes leaves us broken-hearted.
But again, there is a beauty in all of this. There is a freedom in knowing that regardless of what goes down, you will always have yourself.
No one can take you away from you, ever.
And no matter how bad the bad feels get, no matter what sh*t life inexplicably throws at you, you can always rely on your own support to carry you through the dark times.
No matter how hard or how amazing or how confusing or wonderful or wild life is, you will never be truly alone if you harvest a loving relationship with yourself.
You are the most precious person on the planet. It's time you invested in you.